Prank, noun.

A practical joke or mischievous act

Social experiment, concept

A research project to investigate the effect of a social-based manipulation on a group of participants in comparison to a second group exposed to a different manipulation or a control group.

Online pranksters appear to be the popular thing at the moment. People like Roman Atwood, JoeySalads, ComedyShortsGamer and many more have large followings and regularly provide ‘hilarity’ to their audience. However, is what they do truly pranking? I’d like to focus on a few examples of why these people may be giving the term ‘prank’ a bad reputation.

‘N-word Prank (Pranks gone wrong) – Pranks in the Hood’- JoeySalads

In this first example, prankster Joey goes around the beachfront. Each time he passes a group of black people, he loudly exclaims, in a heavy accent, “A nickel!”. The obviously invokes a negative reaction from his targets and goes as well as you might expect, with the video (that has been viewed over 1.5 million times) showing that when he does to this a group playing basketball, they chase him and throw him to the ground, all the with Joey screaming “Dude, stop. Dude, it’s a prank!”. This example should be obvious- implied racism is not a prank. A white person happily wandering around yelling something very close to a word associated with centuries of oppression is not going to elicit anything but anything reaction from black ‘targets’. In addition, there should be some nuance to a prank- while some pranks can be simplistic; you shouldn’t be able to reduce to ‘I yell slurs at black people!’.

Crazy Public Paintball Prank!- Roman Atwood

In this ‘hilarious’ prank, prankster Roman goes round pretending to paintball people’s cars. This usually ends up with him being sworn at and, in one example, is physically assaulted. In another example, he stops a car in the middle of the road and then proceeds with the prank. Much like the example from JoeySalads, implied vandalism is not funny. The average cost of repainting a car, say after someone paintballs it at close range, is between $300 and $900. Roman actually goes on the defensive in many cases, using the “It’s just a prank” line over and over which, while true, is not going to calm someone down after you repeatedly shoot at their car.

Playing Gun Prank with Cops (GONE WRONG!!) JoshPalerLin

This one is just ridiculous. The subject of the video goes up to police officers and starts talking about the gun he has in his possession. After being evasive about his past and the nature of the gun, he is cuffed and searched by the two police officers. He then reveals his gun, which is his bicep and he is promptly released. He then complains about the cops being ‘pissed’ and how they threw his phone on the floor when they searched him. I can’t believe I have to say this but VAGUELY TELLING A POLICE OFFICER THAT YOU HAVE A GUN ON YOUR PERSON IS NOT A PRANK. Gun crime is a serious problem in the United States and if you vaguely talk about carrying a gun on your person to police officers on duty, then you are most likely going to be searched. In California (where the video is shot), while you do not need a license to own a gun, you do need a license to carry a gun; something the ‘prankster’ denies carrying. He did a similar prank in Compton where he asked people if they wanted to see his guns and, as is the theme, gets a variety of mostly negative reactions.

Revenge 9- Cheating Prank turns into suicide prank- ViralBrothers

The ViralBrothers are somewhat unique in that their pranking is mostly limited to one another and their immediate friends and family in an attempt to one-up each other. However, in the horrific example titled above, one brother decides to prank his girlfriend by revealing he has been having an affair. She is in fact in cahoots with his brother and promptly pranks her boyfriend by pretending to jump out the window of their apartment and killing herself. While it very much fits in the gross-out/shock value theme of the ViralBrothers, the pain on the pranked brother’s face is very real. Anything that involves a beloved part of your life dying is not a prank, that’s just mean spirited.

High Five New York- AMK Productions

This falls into the ‘mischievous act’ part of the definition of a prank. A Brooklyn filmmaker runs around busy New York, high fiving people who are trying to hail a taxi. That’s all it is and it is fantastic. Some people find it hilarious, some cracked a tiny smile and some are just downright confused. But here’s why I love this video- no-one is hurt or duped or made to look stupid and the guy in the video only interacts with the people for as long as the high five lasts. After four horrifying examples of modern pranking, it’s only fair to show that people still know how to do it right. In fact, here’s the link to High Five New York so you can watch it yourself- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fn6s_LMkJ70

And now we come to ‘social experiments’. As a student of psychology, I am very aware of social experiments- Milgram’s obedience study, Zimbardo’s role of authority study; I’m even running a study into the effect of accents on our perception of a person’s competence, friendliness and trustworthiness. However, for internet users, social experiments may have a very different meaning. It is a phrase often used to try and justify a ‘prank’ that has been criticized by the majority of people. The most notable case of this is that of Sam Pepper. Sam Pepper is an American Youtuber/Prankster with around 2.2 million subscribers. He became notable when he made a video in which he would ask women for directions and then pinch their bottom. This video, despite garnering millions of view, gained heavy criticism because let’s face it, it was freaking sexual harassment. It wasn’t the first time Pepper had done something like this, there is a video of him handcuffing himself to women and agreeing to release them in exchange for a kiss. However, Pepper claimed that the ‘ass pinch’ video was a social experiment, trying to highlight something about sexual harassment or domestic violence. The reason I’m not clear is because Pepper, in his apology/explanation video isn’t very clear himself. Social experiments are a legitimate thing and, due to their nature, are one of the most closely regulated fields in psychology and sociology. Simply claiming that you are conducting a social experiment is meaningless. If a genuine experiment was taking place, there would be everything from an ethics board review to a full debrief of participants. Oh and most importantly, it wouldn’t go up on YouTube labelled as a prank video. Fun fact, for the experiment I’m running, I have had people turn me down to due to it being technically a ‘social experiment’ due to the negative stigma surrounding the phrase.

What I hope you take away from this blog is that it is more and more common that people are using the word ‘prank’ to seemingly excuse them being a jerk to the general public. There are still genuinely funny and harmless pranks out there but they just don’t get the view count. I don’t know whether schadenfreude just wins out or we are becoming more apathetic as a society but we need to take back pranks and make them funny again. As for social experiments, people will say anything to try and keep face but don’t listen to them. Unless they have run a genuine social experiment, they are probably covering their ass for something horrible they have done.

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